THE FOUNDING OF THE CHURCH
Ephesians 5:25 “…Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;”
In Bible study there are various laws/rules or methods of study. One of these methods is the Law of First Mention. We are going to look at the first two times “church” is used in the New Testament, this will be the very first building block, the foundation, the backbone, that the DNA of the church is built upon and attached to. We are going to look carefully at the first two mentions of the foundation of the church and of our Fundamental beliefs.
WHEN DID THE CHRUCH BEGIN?
Matthew 16:13-19 “When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesa-rea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Our next occurrence of the word church in the New Testament is found in Matthew chapter 18. The word church is found in the New Testament some 113 times.
Matthew 18:15-19 “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.”
Look at the two expressions isolated Matthew 16:18 “I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH” and Matthew 18:17 “TELL IT TO THE CHURCH”. These are the first two mentions of the word “church” in the New Testament and in the Bible. There is no such thing as the church as we know, with two ordinances, church officers, a Great Commission to fulfill, mentioned in the Old Testament. We can find some pictures of the church in the Old Testament, such as Eve being the bride of Adam and Sarah being the bride of Abraham. The Old Testament teaching is primarily not on the church.
So, when did the church begin? We know by the reading of Matthew 16 where Jesus said “I will build my church” that is was still to come at some point in the future at that time. So, the church was apparently yet future when Jesus spoke those words in Matthew 16. Not long after speaking these words Jesus died on the cross and rose the third day. Pentecost came, and all the component parts of the church were in place. So, think for a moment. What does the Bible say the church is founded upon, what makes up the foundational DNA of the church? The Bible teaches us the church is founded upon the death, the resurrection and the ascension of Christ. The Bible teaches us that Jesus intercedes for the church in Heaven. How can He intercede there, if He is not there? Also, the Bible teaches us that when Jesus ascended on high that He led captivity captive, He moved the saints from Abrahams bosom and took them to Heaven with Him. So, Christians became part of one body the church on the day of Pentecost. One more point on this topic, the Holy Spirit never inhabited believers, as He does today, until the day of Pentecost, now look at what Ephesians 2:21-22 says “In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.”
ON WHO IS THE CHURCH FOUNDED?
Who is the church founded upon? You may think this is a question all Christians should know the answer to, it may seem to you to be a simple question with a simple answer. But the truth is there are many Christians out there who do not know for sure the answer to the question, and there are many who think they do know the answer except it is the wrong answer that they know. For instance, Catholics will say and teach that Jesus founded His church upon the Apostle Peter based on their reading and under-standing of Matthew 16. Getting this answer correct is fundamental to who we are and to our faith and practice. The answer to this question is foundational to the church. Millions of people around the world do not believe the church is founded upon Jesus Christ. So, this section may seem simple to some, but we have to get this part right, to have the solid foundation to build our lives upon.
The Lord gave us a great illustration to understand this point in Matthew 7:24-27 “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.” Now, while thinking about this illustration in Matthew chapter 7, let’s look again at what Jesus says in Matthew 16:18 “upon this rock I will build my church”. So, the church was founded upon an unmovable large strong rock suitable for an eternal foundation, not a small pebble, not something that could be picked up and thrown, but a solid permanent, stable, eternally secure rock. Now with this thought in mind the rest of Matthew 16:18 makes sense “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
As mentioned earlier, some people and churches will say that Peter was that rock Jesus was referencing building His church upon. One way they get this thinking and this belief from is John 1:42 “And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.” Now let’s look at Matthew 16:17-20 “And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ.”
The following comment on this passage from The Bible Knowledge Commentary sums up the issue:
“Peter’s words brought a word of commendation from the Lord. Peter was blessed because he had come to a correct conclusion about the person of Christ and because great blessing would be brought into his life. The Lord added, however, this was not a conclusion Peter had determined by his own or others’ ability. God, the Father in heaven, had revealed it to him. Peter was living up to his name (it means “rock”) for he was demonstrating himself to be a rock. When the Lord and Peter first met, Jesus had said Simon would be named Cephas (Aram. for “rock”) or Peter (Gr. for “rock”; John 1:41-42).
But his declaration about Messiah’s person led to a declaration of Messiah’s program. Peter (Petros, masc.) was strong like a rock, but Jesus added that on this rock (petra, fem.) He would build His church. Because of this change in Greek words, many conservative scholars believe that Jesus is now building His church on Himself. Others hold that the church is built on Peter and the other apostles as the building’s foundation stones (Eph. 2:20; Rev. 21:14). Still other scholars say that the church is built on Peter’s testimony. It seems best to understand that Jesus was praising Peter for his accurate statement about Him and was introducing His (Jesus) work of building the church on Himself (Jesus).“
I Corinthians 3:11 “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
Albert Barnes, in his New Testament Commentary, made the following comment of Christ being the foundation of the church “Christ is often called the foundation; the stone; the corner stone on which the church is reared, Isa 28:16; Mt 21:42; Ac 4:11; Eph 2:20; 2Ti 2:19; 1Pe 2:6. The meaning is, that no true church can be reared which does not embrace and hold the true doctrines respecting him–those which pertain to his incarnation, his Divine nature, his instructions, his example, his atonement, his resurrection, and his ascension. The reason why no true church can be established without embracing the truth as it is in Christ, is, that it is by him only that men can be saved; and where this doctrine is wanting, all is wanting that enters into the essential idea of a church. The fundamental doctrines of the Christian religion must be embraced, or a church cannot exist; and where those doctrines axe denied, no association of men can be recognized as a church of God. Nor can the foundation be modified or shaped so as to suit the wishes of men. It must be laid as it is in the Scriptures; and the superstructure must be reared on that alone.”
Phillip Doddridge also had a great comment of Christ being the foundation of the church and our faith – “This is all indeed that remains to be done; for other solid foundation no one is able to lay beside what is already laid, which is Jesus Christ, the great foundation-stone which God hath laid in Zion, elect and precious; and I take it for granted, no one who calls himself a Christian will attempt to lay any other.” Phillip Doddridge was a preacher of the Gospel in England until his death in 1751. He declined becoming part of the church of England and instead became an independent Pastor leading an independent congregation separate from the church of England. He did this because he felt there should be no earthly hierarchy over the church and that only One should have the preeminence over the local church and that was Christ and Christ alone. (Colossians 1:15-19 – Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell;)
THE ESSENTIALS OF THE CHURCH (Matthew 16:13-19)
In this passage in Matthew 16, Christ focused on the essentials of the church. The essentials to a car are the engine, transmission, brakes and electrical system. If you do not have these basic essentials of a car, having just a steering wheel and some tires does not get you anywhere. Christ spoke the words in our passage of study to men He took time to disciple. So, discipling is definitely an essential of the church, Christ also commands as much in Matthew 28:18-20. Christ told Peter that the only reason he stated the correct answer to His question was because the Father illuminated his mind to the right answer. Christ must always be the head of the church, as He is the one that founded it and is the foundation of it (Ephesians 1:22-23). Another essential of the church is the involvement of the Holy Spirit; He must be in the midst of the church, He must be inhabiting the Christians in the church, because you have to be saved to be part of the church. The Holy Spirit does the work of illuminating the Word, which is another essential of the church, to those who are saved, salvation of one’s soul is an essential aspect of one being part of the church.
The number one essential of the church is Christ. Unless Christ is the center of everything in the church, there is no point in doing anything. It can be compared to a person believing in Christ for salvation, but not believing in the resurrection or life after death, what is the point then? Not having Christ in the center of all the church does is like being alive but choosing not to have a heart or lungs. You won’t be alive very long without them and a church that neglects to put Christ in the center of all it does won’t be alive very long either.
Christ must be everything He says He is or He is not Christ at all (I John 4:4 – Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.) Reading the Bible while practicing what it says is essential, loving others while serving them, so they can come to know Christ and be more like Him, is essential.
The church is the only place that Christ is the head of and the place He is directly attached (Ephesians 1:22-23 – And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.) It is a place to call the elders together to pray for healing (James 5:14-16). It is the place you discover your spiritual gifts and use them to serve others and minister to a hurt and broken world. It is the place the Pastor can be found to help minister to broken lives. It is the place where Christ wants His death to be remembered (I Corinthians 11:24-26). The church is the pillar and foundation of truth. The building of the church is where the family of God gathers each week and it is where love matters most (I John 4:8 – He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.)
H.W. Beecher says that “some churches are like lighthouses, built of stone, so strong that the thunder of the sea cannot move them…” The light that shines form these churches is the light of Christ shining through His believers. Sinners are not reached solely through the church’s ceremony, pomp, beautiful music or largeness – they are reached through the Christ-likeness of its individual members.
We need the church as established by Christ, the foundation of the church is the basis of everything, without it we have nothing to build upon. The foundation of the church is Jesus Christ. He is the head of the church, the founder of the church, the interceder for the church, and the Savior of the church. Everything centers on Christ, as should everything in our life too.